The Emerald File


Well that was a fun few days (not!). The hopes of a nation rested on the shoulders of our boys and they failed to deliver, being the first team knocked out of Euro 2012 in rather unceremonious circumstances. After 2nd place finishes in every major tournament so far this year’s lot sit at the bottom of Group C without a point to their name. So where did it all go wrong, why have we had the worst tournament in our history, why were we the worst side in Euro history?

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A bridge too far, or just a dead end?

Most of the problem, sadly, lies in our manager. By playing a system with wingers in our first games against two teams that play predominantly down the middle, we’ve hurt ourselves in this tournament. Look at another team with average players like Italy, who played an intelligent system against Spain and it worked for their favour, or Ukraine, who managed to beat a fancied Sweden side by playing a system adapted to the game. Signor Trapattoni had so little confidence in our team he sent us to the tournament with a system that was out dated, defensive and clueless. All we did was pump long ball the entire time, and despite it working for the first half against Croatia it was soon shown up.

Even against Spain, hoofing the ball up to Robbie Keane was about as useful as digging a tunnel with a plastic spoon. We bypassed our midfield, and negated our two wingers so it was like playing with 9 players for most of the game. When the players decided to scrap the system against France in Paris on that fateful night, and play with a bit of creative freedom, they found they could actually play football. Unfortunately that immediately dissipated in the aftermath, and we’ve had no possession in any of our games in this tournament due to the fact that all we did was pass amongst the back four and then give it to Shay who then infuriatingly booted the ball back to the opposition.

None of our teams in previous tournaments have had world class players. The ‘88 squad had the likes of Tony Galvin, Chris Morris and Tony Cascarino, all of which were journeyman players but at least we didn’t embarrass ourselves then. Same with ’94 and ‘02, neither were great teams but at least we got out of the group. The fact is, none of our players have played anywhere near as well as they can, Andrews being the exception. Keane has seen games pass him by; Shay Given (despite some good saves against Spain) has shown nowhere near the form he has reached on previous occasions wearing the jersey. A normally very solid Dunne and St. Ledger in the middle have been badly discommoded while Simon Cox has struggled in two unfamiliar positions.

A common sight these European Championships

One cannot say that a change in personnel wouldn’t have made a difference. John O’Shea had a nightmare of a tournament; Coleman being the obvious choice. McGeady guilty of giving the ball away a ridiculous amount of times, and worse yet his unwillingness to track back has left Ward completely exposed at left back (a cause of at least 3 of the 9 goals we’ve conceded). Glenn Whelan has been completely anonymous in the games, and surely Wes Hoolihan or Anthony Pilkington (both playing regular Premier League football) would have been far more effective, Hoolihan at least has a bit of attacking nouse! We don’t have great players but we left the best of what we have watching the games instead of playing in them.

It’s not even that we’ve lost every game; it’s that we’ve been shown up by our Group C opponents as a team that’s worse than we actually are. I don’t believe in this ‘oh we’re just happy to be there’ crap, we’ve punched well above our weight in every major tournament we’ve played in and if we get through to the tournament we should at least expect to make a good account of ourselves. The fact is that we were the equal worst side in European Championship History. Xabi Alonso made more passes in the Spanish game than our entire team, and he came off after an hour! We really could have played much better with a different system and different players, and we’ll be sadly remembered for a football team that bitterly let down its fantastic support.

I’m not saying that with these changes we would have qualified, but to have been beaten 4-0 and had 3 shots on target against a Spanish side that drew against an un-fancied Italian outfit, rested one of their best players, and never left first gear for the entire game, makes me feel embarrassed.

At least one of us enjoyed the trip…

So where do we go from here? Unfortunately the future does not look good for Irish international football. The FAI is still under the huge burden of debt from the Aviva Stadium project, this means terminating Trapattoni’s contract is most certainly out of the question. Irish fans can expect to see the same system for at least the next World Cup Qualifying campaign.

In our group lie Germany and Sweden, two sides that look like they could comfortably beat us, and being brutally honest I can’t see us progressing to another tournament until at least World Cup 2018. The fact is that the stalwarts that make up the backbone of our team are near retirement age. Robbie Keane (31), Richard Dunne (32), Damien Duff (33), and Shay Given (36) are unlikely to be around for the next European championships and while new talent is emerging, I can’t see them getting their chance in the green shirt, not while Giovanni and the Italian regime is in place. And as I saw Andrews melt down, Balotelli score and our side exit with a whimper, a part of me wished we hadn’t qualified in the first place.

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